For over 50 years Colombia has been engaged in a low-intensity civil war. The conflict has left over 220,000 Colombians dead—80% of whom are civilians. Over 7 million Colombians have registered as victims of the conflict. As a result of the conflict, Colombia also has one of the highest internal displacement numbers in the world.
The roots of the conflict can be traced back to La Violencia in the 1940’s, a period which saw the massacre of hundreds of thousands after a Populist Liberal leader was assassinated. In the 1960’s, the Colombian Army began moving through the country to root out armed groups and those aligned with Communists. Two left-wing guerilla groups emerged—Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN)—and remain in operation today.
Colombia’s ideological war has since evolved into one fuelled by drugs, with profits from the illegal narco-trade providing an incentive for all parties to stay engaged. The drug trade proved profitable for all sides, including guerrillas, paramilitaries and armed groups. With the increased prominence of drugs in Colombia’s conflict, guerilla groups have engaged in terror tactics, including hostage takings and kidnappings, often keeping high profile people in captivity for years.
Colombia’s civilian population continue to be displaced en masse, by all sides—whether due to threats of political violence or being forced to give up land to the army, paramilitaries or guerrilla groups for various economic interests. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities have been disproportionately affected.
There is significant evidence of systematic violence against the women of Colombia. Gender violence is perpetrated by all participants in the conflict, including guerilla groups, paramilitary forces, and the state security forces.
In an effort to quell the conflict the government conducted a demobilization process of right-wing paramilitary groups between 2003-2006. The process was heavily flawed and, although the right-wing paramilitary groups officially demobilized, many members remained armed and formed neo-paramilitary groups—known as bandas criminals (criminal gangs) or, the BACRIM. Since then, the BACRIM have risen to be the primary threat to human rights and peace in Colombia. Similar to other paramilitary groups, the BACRIM are heavily involved in the drug trade and extortion of Colombia citizens.
In November 2012 formal peace negotiations began in La Havana, Cuba between the government of Colombia and the FARC—the first opportunity in over a decade to restore peace to the country. Both the government and FARC have sent teams of high-level officials to the negotiations. Delegations of victims traveled to La Havana in 2014 in order to include in the peace process the voices of those most impacted by the conflict. These individuals represent the broadest scope of injuries and damages incurred from the conflict—they have endured violence, displacement, threats, and torture at the hands of warring factions. Women were included in large numbers on each delegation, including victims of sexual violence and sexual torture.